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It’s the jobs, stupid!

Feb 14,2017
Joblessness among Korea’s younger generation is becoming alarming. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the jobless figure for people between the ages of 15 and 24 shot up to 10.7 percent last year — the highest since 2000 and higher than the 10.4 percent rate in the U.S. After two “lost” decades, the unemployment rate for youth in Japan dropped to 5.2 percent after a decade of hovering above 10 percent.

Nevertheless, Korea cannot be compared to America or Japan, both of which cannot but struggle to raise employment rates due to the fact that their economies are mature. Given our national income per capita — yet to surpass the $30,000 level — we still need plenty of jobs for young people. The fact that our jobless figure is even higher than in advanced nations poses a serious problem.

A bigger dilemma is the sheer increase of the population aged between 20 and 24 to 700,000 last year, a whopping 100,000 more than in the first half of the 2010s. The sharp increase originates with their baby boomer parents born between 1955 and 1963 after the Korean War.

If left unattended, their unemployment will worsen to the point that they avoid getting married and having children, which will create a vicious cycle.

Presidential contenders must come up with effective ways to battle this crisis. Moon Jae-in, former leader of the opposition Democratic Party and frontrunner in the polls, promised to create a total of 810,000 jobs — including 310,000 in the areas of fire-fighting, police, welfare and health, and the remaining 500,000 from cutting civil servants’ working hours. Ahn Cheol-soo, former head of the People’s Party, proposed the government subsidize small and mid-size companies so their pay will rise to 80 percent of the salaries paid by large companies. Lee Jae-myung, Seongnam mayor, went so far as to offer at least 1 million won ($869) to each youth per year.

But those promises are shortsighted. Creating jobs through tax revenues is simply not sustainable. Presidential hopefuls must present true visions for creating quality jobs. If lawmakers would simply pass a bill deregulating our services industry, that alone can create tens of thousands of jobs. Germany is able to lead the European economy thanks to its bipartisan labor reform, and America and Japan could lower their joblessness among youth through drastic deregulation.

Our presidential wannabes must pay heed to a young generation stuck in a chronic lack of jobs. At the same time, they must reform our outmoded labor market after passing the labor reform bill stuck in gridlock and ensure their job security.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 14, Page 30